There is an easiness to be weary of and misjudge a film which is out of this world. You may be put off that Across the Universe (2007) is a musical, that the songs are all covers of The Beatles and that the storyline is a strange adventure. To watch Across the Universe is to open your eyes to the sound of the time, and to live in some hazy dream of a mixture between fact and fantasy.
We all possess general knowledge on the musical. There are so many that you can roll off the top of your head: Mama Mia!, Hairspray, Grease, High School Musical… What do all of these have in common? They’re targeted at woman, they are all cheesy and they all smashed box office records. Across the Universe doesn’t fall into any of these categories. How can a musical not be cheesy, you as? By giving a grittier storyline set in the 1960s when both creative rebellion and war protests were striking across the states.
We start off with Jude (Jim Sturgess) the lad from Liverpool, who ventures to meet his father at the Ivy League Princeton University in New Jersey, where he ends up meeting disobedient Max (Joe Anderson) and they decide to move to New York City, living in a shared apartment at Greenwich Village, the bohemian capital at the time. The film becomes less about the Liverpool youngster and more about the people who he lives with, for example, he falls in love with Max’s sister, Lucy and the story focuses on their love, and the crisis of love. There are so many elements and genres bound into this two and a half hour production which you can’t really imagine being able to adapt to the stage. It moves from teenage coming-of-age to making more powerful statements about the truths of war that were hidden from the American public. Despite this it does still have a happier romantic note at its core.
Although the plot of Across the Universe isn’t too out there and it can be understood, where it is original is that it doesn’t follow the ordinary plot structure of storytelling as here we hear different characters voices from within the same group and this works well. If I could choose any movie which I could relate to this one it would have to be Moulin Rouge; both have the same haunting introductory numbers and the crazy world of the psychedelic midway through the film could match the entity of the burlesque musical as a whole.
The stars turned out to have musical talents as well as acting abilities, as each had their own unique voices which helped for the tone of different tracks. Out of all the cast my favourite voice had to belong to Sturgess; he had this eerie element to his voice which I could really imagine being in the charts of today. It surprised me to learn that Evan Rachel Wood was the character of Lucy, I should have realised it was her before the credits came up as she is one of the actors whom I find exceptional in cinema. It doesn’t surprise me that she auditioned for this unique musical feature as she seems to have a way of choosing good films to work for. Familiar faces outside of the usual box of the acting industry also made guest appearances, for example U2’s Bono and comedian Eddie Izzard. Two of the main performers have rarely being involved in the acting business and as well as referring to a Beatles track they also portrayed musical talents of the past: Dana Fuchs (Sadie) was Janis Joplin and Martin Luther McCoy (Jojo) was her guitarist sidekick lover Jimi Hendrix, sadly both of these famous musicians had an unhappy ending in real life.
If you are a Beatles fan then there is no doubt you will fall in love with this. I’m surprised this film didn’t make much at the box office with all the Beatle lovers out there, but I suppose there are lots of Beatles haters too. I myself was never really fond of the Beatles before watching this film as I felt most of their songs had the same melody, but the way this drama brings emotion to the songs means I’m going to have to re-listen to them. Maybe the musical has done a better job of covering the tracks for a 21st century audience than the Beatles themselves did.
In relation to the Beatles, the plot of the story is very clever. The chronology of the Beatles movement from their uplifting, ambitious beginning, to their hippy confusing middle and their simpler meaningful end, is all dictated symmetrically throughout the film. For a while the characters turn into a wild bunch of hippies, high on LSD, and I must admit that for the following sequence the film does start to go a bit downhill as the plot is thrown into limbo, until it stars focusing on the rebellion. The ending credits of the film incorporate a staggering 33 tracks, and this mixed with the beautiful imagery painted on the screen made this both a gorgeous pleasure to watch and listen to.
References to the Beatles can be pieced from every frame of the film, which will be a big bonus if you do know your Beatles facts. Like I said previously, I’m not the biggest fan going for them, nevertheless I was still able to enjoy and be absorbed into the movie and it did not alter my understanding of the plot progression, the only thing is that you may feel a bit more connected if you are a fanatic. The names of the characters refer to the titles of The Beatles tracks and at one point Jude even say about Prudence’s entrance: “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”, referring to the title of their 1969 song. This must have been one of the most inspiring movies for scriptwriters, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to work with as they already had the song material to work with; all they needed to do was blend them into a story.
Especially if you are someone who lived in New York in the 1960s or if you are someone who is interested in that time period then this will be a viewing of pure fascination for you. The filmmakers have displayed what the cultural times were like through various symbolic mise-en-scene and editing techniques, as well as interpreting such political events as the 1967 Detroit riot and the Kent State shootings. There are many power songs in the third segment of the film which I couldn’t help but try and cut back the tears rising in my throat as the crescendo was difficult as the truths of the period were in full focus.
Across the Universe shakes up our expectation of film and it defines that the magic of the moving image is that it can become anything you want it to be and that is why director Julie Taymor deserves a medal for bringing something non-Hollywood, or non-British to the scene. Films should be an experience, and that is what this is.
- Rare Color Photos of the Beatles Going Up for Auction (rollingstone.com)
- The Beatles Love Me Do Is Out Of Copyright (noise11.com)
- 2012 Artists In Review: The Beatles (wzlx.cbslocal.com)